This survey—our sixth "places rated" list—isn’t a popularity contest. It is an assessment of authenticity and stewardship, evaluating the qualities that make a destination unique and measuring its "integrity of place." Thus the remote islands of the Grenadines can rate notably higher than popular St. Maarten.
Because evaluating an entire destination involves such unquantifiables as aesthetics and cultural integrity, we decided the best measure would be informed human judgment. We therefore assembled a panel of 437 well-traveled experts in a variety of fields—historic preservation, site management, geography, sustainable tourism, ecology, indigenous cultures, travel writing and photography, and archaeology.
We asked the panelists to evaluate only the places with which they were familiar, using our customary six criteria, weighted according to importance: environmental and ecological quality; social and cultural integrity; condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites; aesthetic appeal; quality of tourism management; and outlook for the future.
Experts began by posting points of view on each place—anonymously, to ensure objectivity. After reading each others’ remarks—a variation of a research tool called the Delphi technique—panelists then filed their final scores.
The resulting Stewardship Index rating represents the average of informed judgments about each place in all its manifestations—as a whole. Like the scores posted by Olympic judges, our experts’ ratings reflect both measurable factors and intangibles (style, aesthetics, culture). And like Olympic athletes, each of the destinations rated here has an opportunity to improve.